Is it ever too early to get a head start on the college football season?
Of course not — especially not with all the changes coming to the sport on the sidelines and on the rosters. We saw huge coaching turnover this offseason, not to mention the permanent changes wrought by the transfer portal.
Georgia is our defending national champion for the first time since 1980, but the Bulldogs will have plenty of competition in and out of the SEC.
What will the coming year look like? Let's take a look at what you need to know about the year of football to come.
College football 2022 (very) early predictions, storylines
1. Clemson misses the playoff again
After watching the Tigers' offense struggle and then the program undergo major coaching upheaval, we'll hold our breath before saying Clemson is back.
DJ Uiagalelei looked lost many times last season throwing the ball, passing for just nine touchdowns and 10 picks, and this unit never really got any momentum going.
Clemson is coming off its first three-loss season since 2014, and has to replace both of Dabo Sweeney's trusted coordinators after they became head coaches — DC Brent Venables at Oklahoma and OC Tony Elliott at Virginia.
Now Clemson is playing in an ACC that isn't quite the pushover it has been the last six years. Pitt is conference champion, and, despite losing quarterback Kenny Pickett, wideout Jordan Addison, and OC Mark Whipple, will have USC transfer Kedon Slovis at quarterback and some other decent targets downfield.
Sam Hartman returns under center for Wake and its prolific offense, NC State — which beat Clemson last fall — returns Devin Leary, and Miami could take a leap forward under first-year coach Mario Cristobal, a vastly-improved coaching staff, and Tyler Van Dyke coming back at QB.
All are on the Tigers' schedule this fall, and there's also a trip to Notre Dame, which beat the then-No. 1 Tigers in 2020 in South Bend. Clemson will have to get vastly improved quarterback play in order to remain in playoff contention.
2. LSU doesn't reach .500
Brian Kelly talks a lot about wanting to fit into the Louisiana culture and way of life, even if those attempts have bordered on the cringe.
But Kelly has performed well so far in the transfer portal and on the recruiting trail. Over a dozen players have come to LSU, and Kelly landed 5-star linebacker Harold Perkins on Signing Day, in addition to quarterback Jayden Daniels transferring in from Arizona State. Not a bad haul, even with corner Eli Ricks transferring to Alabama.
But can he put it together right away? Since winning the College Football Playoff in 2019, LSU has wallowed in mediocrity, and responded by dumping $95 million in Kelly's lap to make it right. There's a lot to like about his tenure at Notre Dame, but winning big games wasn't his strong suit.
Kelly is 14-14 in his career against Top 25 ranked teams. And while the Irish usually play a more national schedule, it's still nothing like what Kelly will face every week in the SEC West.
And we already had a sneak preview of how his teams fare against Southern opposition — Clemson and Alabama outscored Kelly's Irish, 103-31, in three postseason games, a BCS national championship game and two CFP semifinals.
Kelly should have a good enough first month before LSU's schedule turns into a potential apocalypse — at Florida, vs. Ole Miss, vs. Alabama, at Arkansas, and closing at Texas A&M.
3. USC wins the Pac-12
If any team can "win" an offseason, USC did in a rout. Lincoln Riley, the offensive mastermind and quarterback-builder, stunned the college football world by bolting Oklahoma for USC. Now comes a tidal wave of expectations.
And elite transfer players. At the top of that list is quarterback Caleb Williams, the 5-star prospect who pulled out of Oklahoma and followed the coach to USC.
Former OU wideout Mario Williams followed, as did Oregon running back Travis Dye, Stanford back Austin Jones, and in another blockbuster, former Pitt wideout Jordan Addison, the reigning Biletnikoff winner who led the nation with 17 TD catches last fall.
Looking early on at the Trojans' schedule, it's a safe bet the team won't play a ranked opponent until a midseason road trip to Utah. The second half of the slate bodes well, too, with games against UCLA and Notre Dame the only real question marks. Losing one or two games, and USC should be well in the mix for the Pac-12, which won't use divisions to determine its conference champion this season, or ever again.
But what about the Trojans' defense? It was one of the worst in football a year ago, the Pac-12's second-worst, and 89th best nationally, and there's no quick fix for a lack of physicality at the line of scrimmage. Alex Grinch has his work cut out to keep his unit in line with what should be a fast-paced offense.
4. Auburn fires Bryan Harsin
Harsin doesn't exactly come into the 2022 season with a ton of support to begin with.
Officially, Auburn elected to keep him on after an investigation into his coaching methods, but that decision was likely based on economic factors — namely the $18 million the school would have owed him had it fired him without cause.
To really earn Auburn's vote of confidence, he'll have to do a lot better than the 6-7 season he had the first time out. And looking at this schedule, it's a tough ask.
There are home dates against Penn State, LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M, and road trips to Georgia, Ole Miss, and Alabama. It's not hard to see Auburn all of those games, and don't count out Missouri or Mississippi State, either.
The first five games of 2022 are at home, which could help build some momentum, but Harsin has structural issues to repair on this roster. Who is the quarterback? Who is he throwing to? How well can this secondary hold things down?
5. Texas A&M beats Alabama again
As if this game didn't need any more fuel added to the fire, some very bad (and public) offseason blood between Nick Saban and Jimbo Fisher did just that.
The game itself promised to be good enough: A&M just signed what analysts call the greatest recruiting class in modern college football history, are coming off an upset of the then-No. 1 Tide last season, and Alabama is, well, Alabama.
Then came all that business.
Saban said that the Aggies "bought every player on their team" during that historic recruiting haul, and then Jimbo called an emergency press conference to have his say. Allegations of hypocrisy, narcissism, "thinking they're God," and some shady dealings of Saban's own in an all-time rant in which Fisher said he and the Tide coach are "done."
Which might make things awkward between the coaches pre-game, if they decide to meet at all, and will definitely light a fire under the Aggies team and the Alabama home crowd.
On the football side of things, anything seems possible. A&M, a four-time loser last fall despite the Bama win, has some business to take care of well before this game, including dates against Miami and Arkansas.
Alabama goes to Texas in Week 2 and Arkansas the week before this matchup.
The game is perhaps the litmus test in the SEC this season, to see if the Aggies are finally in position to knock off the top dog and build a playoff-worthy resume of their own.
Early 2022 college football power rankings
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2021 record: 13-2
Where Alabama ended up: Winning the SEC and losing to Georgia in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game
Where Alabama is now: This team will lose a lot of talent, but it'll keep some, too. Nick Saban has done this for 15 years now, replacing one batch of elite skill with another batch of elite skill.
Bryce Young returns at quarterback and Will Anderson (arguably the single-best player in the sport) at linebacker after leading the nation in sacks and TFLs. And the Tide scored some elite transfers, including receivers Jermaine Burton and Tyler Harrell, running back Jahmyr Gibbs, and cornerback Eli Ricks.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
2021 record: 11-2
Where Ohio State ended up: Losing twice, to Oregon and Michigan, but then beating Utah in one of the best Rose Bowl games ever
Where Ohio State is now: Judging by how this offense went off against Utah, losing its top two receivers may not be so bad after all. CJ Stroud comes back, has a major deep threat in Jaxon Smith-Njigba, and TreVeyon Henderson to pound the rock between the tackles.
But the Buckeyes need to fine-tune a defensive unit that struggled in those two losses last season. Jim Knowles comes over from the other OSU, where he coached the nation's third-best defense a year ago, and brings an aggressive DB-led scheme.
3. Georgia Bulldogs
2021 record: 14-1
Where Georgia ended up: Winning its first national championship since 1980 behind one of the best defenses in modern college football history
Where Georgia is now: Much of that generational defense will move on to the NFL, but it has plenty of younger contributors waiting to make a statement of their own. And it certainly doesn't hurt that quarterback Stetson Bennett will return this fall.
4. Clemson Tigers
2021 record: 10-3
Where Clemson ended up: Winning 10 games and the Cheez-It Bowl despite a 2-2 start and falling out of the Top 25 rankings by mid-October after losses to Georgia and NC State
Where Clemson is now: Something a little better than what we saw in 2021, but still a work in progress. Dabo Swinney had to replace both coordinators, and needs to find a way to move the ball better. DJ Uiagalelei needs to improve under center, but he has a release valve in RB Will Shipley.
5. Texas A&M
2021 record: 8-4
Where Texas A&M ended up: With no bowl game thanks to the virus, but with a win over then-No. 1 Alabama and another crazy elite recruiting class
Where Texas A&M is now: A&M scored former LSU quarterback Max Johnson — who beat them in the '21 finale — in the transfer portal, and he gets a deep rotation of wide receivers, in addition to the No. 2 scoring defense in the SEC that just added some real skill in the front seven rotation. And doubtless inspired by Jimbo Fisher, who wants to get past the drama of this offseason and prove himself and this team to the playoff committee.
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